RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 43 Number 1 Article 1
July 2006

Johnny's 40th Birthday Treat :
Gaping Gill Main Shaft on Ladders

Saturday 23rd July 2005

The Team: John Baker, Paul Swire, Helen Blyth, Carmel Ramwell, Dinny Davies, Dave Ottewell, Abi Nash, with surface support from Hamish Balfour.

Johnny   A few years ago I joined Beardy on his birthday trip; Juniper Gulf on ladders. Now then, what trip could I do as a special treat for the big 4-0 the obvious answer was GG Main Shaft. I knew I'd get Beardy along, but after asking around at the 'Diggers Disco', enthusiasm for the trip seemed thin on the ground. Eventually, a week before the trip, Beardy had got together a team eager to make the classic descent.
Beardy   Saturday morning arrived and the team slowly assembled in Ingleton for breakfast. Time ticked on, but there was no sign of Johnny or the tackle that he was bringing.
Johnny   Up at the farm, Saturday dawned with the typical mist and drizzle. I was beginning to have second thoughts about a long (a very long) wet pitch, and off I drove with the tacklestore's contents in the boot of my car, wondering what plan B would be.
Beardy   Finally Johnny arrived, muttering something about changing plans and going to Long Kin West. "Not on your Nelly" was the unanimous response from the eager team.
Helen   Well, some of the team was eager! I'd spent several days honing my "positive mental attitude", and by now I had properly visualised my future predicament. It involved a dreadful pickle of ladder, lifeline and me slowly drowning in a raging torrent. Added to this would be a helpful team of lifeliners, taking-in or paying-out in such a way that would make matters worse, due to an inability to effect any meaningful communication.
Johnny   "Oh, have you lot all got whistles?" "No?" "Ok I'll buy some" In Bernies Andy must have wondered why I wanted to buy five whistles!
Helen   Once the team and their whistles had been united in Clapham, the debate began as to exactly how they should be used. Was it one blow for up? Or did that mean stop?….
Beardy   Next on the agenda was unloading Johnny's Nissan tardis. In a few minutes a pile of tackle of awesome dimensions was deposited on the carpark floor, to many "ooh's" and "aahh's" and "fuck me that's a lot of ladders". The lengthy debate of what to take began.
Johnny   After a good twenty minutes it was finally agreed that it'd be better to take one ladder extra, than one ladder short, and so we began the walk up to the entrance.
Helen   Once at the entrance, the prevarications could begin in earnest. A few trips to the loo and fettling of furry suits were required before we could even start to think about the mound of ladders.
Johnny   For some strange reason, it was declared that as it was "my" trip, I had to do the rigging. Meanwhile, the others sorted out a system for lifelining. At this late stage, we were joined by Dinny.
Beardy   We decided to hang the ladder from the current S.R.T. P Bolts on the true right of the Main Shaft. Once we had this plan we began to rig a traverse line out to the head of the pitch, whilst back in the bed of Fell beck we constructed a brilliantly complicated web of rope to allow efficient lifelining and hauling. These preliminaries dealt with, we now had to consider how to rig the one hundredweight of ladder down the hole?
Johnny   Luckly we had Mr Ottewell's muscle and the combined ingenuity of eight excited potholers.
Helen   Then the time came for the first victim… er volunteer, to make their descent. Carmel rose to the challenge, but she felt it was "sensible" to abseil down, just to make sure that everything was tickety-boo.
Beardy   Meanwhile the rest of the team felt that abseiling down only gave her half a tick!
Johnny   We heard the "ok" whistle, and I was given the 'honour' of being first down the ladder. Due to a poor technique, I climbed down the top 200ft without much weight being taken by the lifeline. I stepped off the ladder on to a tiny ledge just below Birkbeck's, looking down I saw the speck of Carmel's light, still a hefty 160ft below me. I had serious thoughts of going back up then, but carried on down managing to let the line take most of my weight. I got to the bottom exhilarated, but knackered, arms barely able to function. But my functioning eyes saw about sixty feet of ladder on the floor of Main Chamber. After twenty minutes or so it was my turn to ascend. I'd psyched myself up to Birkbeck's Ledge, but barely got halfway up to it before I needed to rest. Several rests later, I had the top in my sights, and after one of my most tiring experiences, I reached the top with a huge satisfied grin.
Beardy   Following Carmel and Johnny, another five cavers were able to enjoy this classic Dales caving experience. For Abi it was her first ever electron ladder climb. She sailed down and back up with no problems - total respect! Despite Helen's initial worries, she surfaced with a smile saying "That was excellent!" …yet another convert. Dave, Dinny and Beardy also enjoyed themselves immensely. The sight of the ladder soaring up out of Main Chamber was truly spectacular.
Johnny   Once the last man was eventually up, it left the not so simple task of derigging, and coiling over a dozen ladders. Everyone had a truly happy smile on their face, Dave summing up the mood perfectly - "What a grand day out."

Johnny Baker, Paul Swire and Helen Blyth

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